Thursday, March 5, 2015

US billionaire Paul Allen discovers wreck of Japan's biggest warship Musashi link

 In March 2015, Paul G. Allen and his team of researchers located the Musashi at about 1000 m deep, a WWII Japanese battleship considered one of the two largest and most technologically advanced battleships in naval history.
These images of the ship are from the Octo ROV deployed from Allen's M/Y Octopus.

From The Guardian

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen says he has found the Japanese Navy’s biggest warship at the bottom of the sea in the Philippines, 70 years after US forces sank it.

This is the bow of the Musashi
Which would have had a large teak chrysanthemum,
which was the Imperial Seal of Japan.

Allen posted a photo on Twitter on Tuesday of the second world war battleship Musashi’s rusty bow, which bore the Japanese empire’s Chrysanthemum seal.

 Sibuyan Sea area with the Marine GeoGarage
Musashi capsized and sank in 4,430 feet (1,350.3 m) at 13°07′N 122°32′E (wikipedia)
Hansgeorg Jentschura, Dieter Jung, and Peter Mickel give a different location of 12°50′N 122°35′E

The American billionaire, who has also pursued space exploration, said his luxury yacht and exploration ship, the M/Y Octopus, found the Musashi one kilometre (0.6 miles) deep on the floor of the Sibuyan Sea.
The Octopus’ remote operated probe Octo ROV located the Musashi on Monday, according to Allen’s website.
The Octopus is also outfitted with an exploration submarine.
“RIP (rest in peace) crew of Musashi, approximately 1,023 (lives) lost,” Allen said in another tweet.

This is a wheel on a valve that would have been from a lower engineering area that contains some yet to be translated writing.

Allen also posted a photo of a valve from the wreckage, which he described as the “first confirmation” that it was of Japanese origin.

Musashi carried six to seven float planes launched from this catapult system.
The planes were either Mitsubishi F1M2s or Aichi E13A.

The Sibuyan Sea, at the heart of the Philippines’ central Visayas islands, covers busy shipping lanes and lies on the path of most tropical storms that cross the country from the Pacific Ocean.

American warplanes sunk the Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea on 24 October, 1944, at the height of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, considered the largest naval encounter of the second world war in which US and Australian forces defeated the Japanese.
The Musashi was a “mighty battleship” with “mammoth 18-inch guns”, according to the US Navy’s website.

The Japanese battleship Musashi in October 1944.
Photograph: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images

Its twin ship, the Yamato, was damaged in the fighting, according to the US Navy, and American warships finally sank it a year later as it attempted to reach Okinawa.

The Seattle-born Allen, 62, who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, is the 51st richest person in the world with a net worth of $17.5bn, according to Forbes Magazine.

In 2012, Allen loaned the same ship that located the Musashi to the British government to locate HMS Hood’s bell from the bottom of the Denmark Strait.
The search was eventually called off due to bad weather.

Allen is also working on a project called Stratolaunch, which aims to put “cost-effective” cargo and manned missions into space.
He launched SpaceShipOne, the first privately built craft into suborbital space in 2004.

Allen did not immediately reply to AFP’s request for comment via Twitter.
Spokespersons for the Philippines’ navy and coast guard told AFP they were not informed of the discovery.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

China’s AIS data open to public link

According to the MSA, its AIS integrated service of vessel traffic in real time can cover all of coastal and inland waters in China and some of the waters in the world.

From IHS and Defenceweb

The AIS Information Service Platform by China Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) was officially launched at the beginning of this month, and real-time AIS data in China's coastal areas and rivers are now traceable.

AIS data of around 35,000 ships are available for the public every day, according to China MSA, and ship information can be searched in terms of real-time location and speed.

Macau/ Hong-Kong with Shenzhen until Guangzou vessel traffic

The platform also integrates port information, tides forecast and meteorological information, stated China MSA, and the highlight of this platform is that it overlaps land and sea charts together.

"AIS provide accurate information of ships, and can greatly shorten the time of search and rescue in case of [an] accident," stated Xu Jixiang, a senior official from China MSA. He added that with the help of AIS, the maritime departments will be able to prevent collision accidents and track hit-and-run ships.

Shanghai to Nanjing vessel traffic

China also developed the ship-based Beidou AIS terminal in January 2014, combining China's Beidou navigation satellite system and AIS, and has applied it on maritime vessels and survey ships.
China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System was officially recognised by the IMO in November 2014 as part of the organisation's World-Wide Radio Navigation System (WWRNS) at the 94th Session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC).
Currently, BeiDou's accuracy is within 10m, and functions even to sub-metre levels in some areas. By the end of 2015, its accuracy will be improved to a 1m level and to a centimetre level by the end of 2018.

Data from China's Ministry of Transport showed that as of May 2013, China MSA has established the world's largest shore-based AIS network.
According to the requirement of international convention and relevant standard, the MSA has built 402 land-based AIS stations in China, covering the whole country's coastal and inland river high-grade waterways and relevant waters.

Windward earlier reported that one per cent of all ships around the world are giving out fake identities via their AIS transponder systems.
Windward said that its research has found that this is a fast-growing trend: over the past year, there has been a 30% rise in AIS manipulation of IMO numbers (a ship’s identity number, which is not supposed to change throughout its ‘lifetime’), with over 1% of the AIS-transmitting ships now reporting false identification data.

Fishing boats setting out from a harbour in Zhejiang Province

Windward also revealed that only 41% of ships report their final port of call, a quarter of global vessels turn off their AIS at least 10% of the time and from mid-2013 to mid-2014 there has been a 59% increase in the use of GPS manipulation.
Chinese fishing vessels account for 44% of GPS manipulation.
The company said it expects such figures to grow as more and more data comes online due to increased regulations and ships seeking to conceal their activities become increasingly aware that AIS is being used to ‘watch’ their activities.

Links :


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

China’s lawful position on the South China Sea link

Subi reef in the Spratlys (November 15, 2014)

From The Diplomat by Greg Austin

Researchers at a key government-funded institute in China appear to have contradicted their director to lay out a moderate, or at least undecided, position for China on the so-called nine-dash line in a recent edition of Eurasia Review.
This line, which was first drawn by the Nationalist government of China before 1949, appears to demarcate the entire South China Sea as subject to China’s jurisdiction — beyond the normal provisions of international law.
The article appeared several months after President Xi ordered PLA hawks back into line in late September 2014 on three sets of issues: the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the India China border.

Maritime Hotspots
In the last several decades there have been multiple interstate incidents—vehicle collisions, armed clashes, close military encounters and other standoffs—in maritime Asia.
Incidents have clustered around the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea.
Other hotspots include the Kuril Islands in the Northern Pacific, and the Liancourt Rocks in the Sea of Japan.
This raises concern that these could be the sites of serious accidents or potential flashpoints for escalation in the future.

At the official level, China has not helped its case by refusing for almost seven decades to be totally clear on what maritime jurisdiction it is claiming with its nine-dash line.
This has prompted anxieties and diplomatic ructions, culminating in a formal Philippines challenge to China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration on January 22, 2013.
The Office of the Geographer in the U.S. Department of State also took up the issue in a December 2014 study, “China: Maritime Claims in the South China Sea”, in its long standing series, Limits in the Seas.

The new article from China, in fact just a short op-ed, was authored by Ye Qiang and Jiang Zongqiang, who are research fellows at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in China. They say that China wants no more rights than are accorded it under the Law of the Sea Convention as well as customary international law.
They say that the government is stillevaluating whether or not to exercise each specific right, and the scope of the rights as well as the manner to exercise.
The piece argues, “These are the reasons why China has not yet clarified the title of rights within the ‘dash-line.’”

This map shows why the South China Sea could lead to the next World War

One would not normally accord any authority to such a short article by two researchers, but it is notable for several reasons.
First, because it reflects 100 percent what the best-informed specialists familiar with senior officials in China know to be the case.
Second, the article appears to directly contradict what many specialists thought was the previously published position of the director of the institute, Wu Shicun, who has been cited in several places as advocating a specific legal force for the nine-dash line.
But Wu, writing in Global Times in January 2014, also said that “Chinese authorities haven’t defined the nine-dashed line in a legal sense.”

As argued in my 1998 book, China’s Ocean Frontier, China is not helping itself by refusing to define its understanding of the line.
But, as also noted in the book, the “1947 publication of the unofficial boundary in the South China Sea was, in part, an effort by China to preserve its traditional or historic rights in the South China Sea in direct response to moves by other states, such as the United States in 1945, to extend their maritime jurisdiction for economic purposes beyond the previously accepted limits of the territorial sea.”
The books also notes, “An equally important motivation was the registering of China’s claims to sovereignty over the islands within the u-shaped line” after the defeat of Japan and its retreat from the South China Sea.

Spratly reefs (MSA ENCs)

Apart from the tumult of and territorial changes arising after the end of the Second World War, the South China Sea had been a place of colonial contest earlier.
Japan had been pushing forward in the South China Sea at the beginning of the 20th century; France was the colonial power in Vietnam; the United States had become the colonial power in the Philippines in 1898; and the U.K. had even formally annexed two islands in the Spratly group in 1877.
But, as Marvyn Samuels has indicated in his 1982 book, Contest for the South China Sea, a 1928 Chinese government commission concluded that at that time the Paracel Islands marked the southernmost extension of Chinese territory in the South China Sea.

 "The Map of South and East Ocean Sea Routes was drawn in between 1712-1721 by Qing (Ching) Dynasty Fujian (Fuchien) Province Navy Commander Shi Shibiao, the son of a famous Qing Dynasty imperial officer.
This map shows the sea routes, time, and descriptions from Chinese coastal ports to Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia and the Philippines.
On this map, the locations and names of the Southern Sea Islands (Nanhai Zhudao) are very accurate.
The map shows Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea islands (including Nansha Islands, Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands and Dongsha Islands)."

With the advent of the Law of the Sea Convention, and clarification of historic rights by the International Court of Justice, and by the continuing practice of states, it will be almost impossible for China to claim (or prove) any historic rights that extend its maritime jurisdiction in the South China Sea beyond the twin regimes of exclusive economic zone or continental shelf as provided for in the Convention.

The photo of the rubbing of a map engraved in stone
that Judge Antonio Carpio says shows Hainan as the southernmost territory of China.

But China does have rights in the South China Sea, based on its recognized territory there (Hainan Island), its likely superior claim to the Paracel Islands, and its equal claim to at least some of the Spratly Islands (see China’s Ocean Frontier).
States who want China to clarify the legal significance of its nine-dash line need to begin to understand and recognize that China does have some rights in the South China Sea.

One problem with this is that China and the United States are also in dispute, along with other states, about the right of non-littoral states to conduct military activities in another country’s EEZ and about the rights of non-littoral states to conduct (aggressive) patrolling for intelligence collection purposes in the EEZ.
That is a bigger issue to which any final settlement of China’s maritime frontier is now hostage and clouds judgments outside China of the lawfulness or otherwise of its positions.

Links :


Monday, March 2, 2015

Nicaragua constructs enormous canal, blind to its environmental cost link

 This Google Map traces the path of the proposed Nicaragua Grand Canal, that is suspected now under construction, through the mountainous regions of the Nicaraguan ecosystem in order to understand the enormity of the project and its economic and environmental impact on the actual rivers involved.
In other words, unlike conceptual maps that do not really show the areas involved in detail, this map enables you to zoom in close in order to determine the impact for yourself.

From Scientific American by Pablo Fonseca

Work has already begun on a canal three times the length of Panama’s, which will cut through forests, wetlands, native reserves and a lake

The Nicaragua Grand Canal will be a project of unprecedented magnitude.
The canal’s route has already been determined, as is the number of ships that will be permitted to pass through it each day.
Also decided is who will construct the canal and how many square kilometers of earth must be moved.
What remains unknown is the environmental impact of this potential new slice through Central America.
Nicaragua’s government proposed the project and put the construction of the canal into the hands of Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND), all without soliciting any environmental studies. And now the government claims construction has started.

 Credit: La Voz Sandinista

Nicaragua Pres. Daniel Ortega sees the canal as positive not only for the country, but for the all of Central America.
He has said nothing, however, about the lack of an environmental impact review.
“Today we are a region where we defend the principle of it is no coincidence that this work begins when in our America we have managed to make this great historical leap toward the integration and unity of our people and our entire region,” Ortega said hours before marking what he called the beginning of construction on December 22, 2014.

Just six days earlier a study on the environmental impact was released, but not for the canal project itself, rather on preliminary construction.
The research was paid for by HKND and performed by consultant firm ERM without government involvement.

The cost of the Nicaragua Grand Canal construction is estimated at $50 billion.
When complete, it would measure 278 kilometers long, whereas the Panama Canal is 77 kilometers long. Its width is set to vary between 230 and 520 meters, with a protection border of five kilometers on either side of the canal.
A large part of the channel would pass through Lake Nicaragua (also known as Lake Cocibolca), the largest tropical lake in Central America.
Construction is estimated to take five years, with completion in 2020.
Ortega announced in February 2012 that the project would resume after being first raised as a possibility in the 19th century.
In July 2012 the nation’s National Assembly approved a special law that would support construction and give wider benefits to the contractor, such as a guarantee of zero criminal punishment for breach of contract, which closed with HKND in June 2013.

What does the preliminary report say?

Despite Ortega’s statement, ERM’s press department denied that construction has started in Nicaragua.
Instead, it tells Scientific American that work has begun on “improvements” to enable field studies, including cleanup and the construction of access routes.
The preliminary work is classified as “modest” because it includes primarily the construction and improvement of access routes, the clearing of a corridor 50 meters wide and almost 24 kilometers long, and support facilities.
The report said that various problems involving just preliminary construction cannot truly be overcome, even if remedies recommended in the report are implemented.
The most troubling part of the report notes the potential for fuel spills to affect freshwater fish in the area, interrupt agricultural activity and impact cultural heritage on native reserves as a result of work that disturbs the soil.
The report also stated “the acquisition and compensation for the land deal…do not meet international standards.”
Along those lines a series of protests in Nicaragua in late 2014 criticized the manner in which the land was acquired.
Dozens of people were arrested, and international agencies confirmed two deaths.
Scientific American received no reply to requests for interviews about these events with representatives of HKND and Nicaragua’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Warnings from scientists around the world

Scientists worldwide also have expressed doubts about the project.
For example, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) wrote that the canal will affect “some 4,000 square kilometers of forest, coast and wetlands,” which include the system of wetlands of San Miguelito (protected area under The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, aka Ramsar Convention, which Nicaragua signed); the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve; the Río San Juan Biosphere Reserve, which contains seven protected areas, including the Los Guatuzos Wildlife Reserve, the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and the Solentiname Archipelago.

According to ATBC’s statement, this network of reserves “is the habitat of at least 22 species that are vulnerable and in danger of extinction, according to the Red List of [Threatened Species issued by] the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature], including tapirs, jaguars, turtles, marine life, corals and other species; some of the rarest and untouched surviving mangroves, coral reefs, dry forests, rainforests and lakeside habitats that still exist in Central America.”
The statement also said, “The Mesoamerican Biological corridor, designed by governments in the region, would be split in half, and the canal and its infrastructure would create a huge barrier to the movement of plants and animals.”
The international body warned the time has come to “suspend all activity related to the construction of the canal and its subprojects until the conclusion of independent studies and all concerns are adequately addressed.”

Meanwhile the International Society of Limnology issued a statement [pdf] warning that the construction and operation of the canal would compromise the function of Lake Nicaragua as a high-quality source of potable and irrigation water and as key to maintaining biodiversity.
“These negative impacts could see an increase in future periods of drought due to climate change,” according to the group.
International standards “require that environmental studies are completed, revised, and published before work begins.
The actions of the government are creating an environment of mistrust, confrontation and repression. We ask the government of Nicaragua to halt this project until these studies are completed and publically debated,” the statement concluded.

The Humboldt Center of Nicaragua issued a statement along the same lines in a recent study [pdf]. According to their calculations, the canal would require 7.5 million cubic meters of water per day in the rainy season and 8.44 million during the dry season.
And models of climate change’s impact on Nicaragua predict that by the year 2039, engineers operating the canal should anticipate a 3 to 4 percent water deficit.

The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences also raises a voice

One of the major local critics of the project’s management has been the country’s academy of sciences.
Vice Pres. Jorge Huete-Pérez, a biologist, published an editorial on the subject in Science magazine with other specialists. In an interview with Scientific American, Huete-Pérez says the main concern of the scientific community is what could happen to the water of Lake Nicaragua.
“In the future climate change will affect us, there will be long droughts and the lake is a reservoir,” he says.
“Is it worth sacrificing a source of drinking water, which also serves agriculture and tourism?”
Huete-Pérez also questioned the way in which the project was discussed before being officially contracted, with little transparency and many questions left unanswered. “Something is clear, which is the interest in building the canal without interest in the consequences,” he adds.
“The foundation of the canal is not clear: there is no business plan, no data on the level of uncertainty nor the benefits. What is being done is irresponsible.”

Despite this situation, Huete-Pérez offers a solution that could be satisfactory to all parties, which he alluded to in his Science editorial: Nicaragua’s government could “reconsider the project with international standards in mind” and assign the project’s supervision to an independent national commission.
He also warned, however, that before the closure of legal routes to halt the project, representatives of affected indigenous peoples should present an appeal before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Links :


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Big tide timelapse link

Grande Marée (coefficient 118) from Benoit Stichelbaut

 Anse du Minaouët (Concarneau) with the Marine GeoGarage

Links :


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Insane shift change of French lighthouse keepers link

Lighthouse of Kereon  
The lighthouse has been automated in 2004 and insane shift changes no longer take place.

Lighthouse of "la Jument" photo from Jean Guichard 
and the guard Theodore Malgorne, in the storm.

In the picture, lighthouse keeper Théodore Malgorne looks like he’s taking a breath of fresh air. In reality, he’s frightened and waiting for rescuers to take himself and his colleagues away from the dangerous waves and life-threatening situation.
In fact, the keepers had been living in fear of death during the 1989 storm and at one point had taken refuge in the lantern room of the tower.
Waves the night before had smashed through the lower windows of the tower, causing the structure to flood, washing away everything in its path including the television, table, chairs, coffee maker and even the refrigerator.
The keepers in fact were waiting to be rescued by helicopter.

Erected on a stone called "La Jument" , "Ar-Gazec" in breton.
Passage of Fromveur near the island of Ouessant, Sea of Iroise, west Brittany.

When he hears the sound of a helicopter, Théodore steps out of the lighthouse to greet what he thinks is the rescue party.
He realises it’s not who or what he thought; it’s photographer Jean Guichard, who is on-site to capture dramatic images of the waves smashing against the rocks and lighthouse.
Seeing what’s about to unfold before him, Jean presses the shutter-release and grabs several pictures before the moment passes.
Théodore Malgorne is initially oblivious to the wave, but quickly realises what’s about to happen and steps back inside, slamming the door shut before the wave engulfs him, and no doubt saving his life as he goes.
In 1990, Jean Guichard won second prize from World Press for his photograph and over the next few years the image became popular in art and print shops.

Storm in Brittany (video Jean-René Kéruzoré)
February 2014
with pictures of La Jument

Links :


Friday, February 27, 2015

God is in these waters link

From Narrative by Porter Fox

Equipped with a beat-up old sloop and a boatload of literary inspiration, a Mainer-turned-city-slicker sets sail on an epic 2,000-mile journey to rediscover the coast of his youth.


Two silhouettes stood at the end of the town pier.
An orange streetlight burned behind them.
The light reflected off of a silver sedan, the gray siding of Frisbee’s Market, the smooth, black water of the Piscataqua River.

There were boats on the river, their bows turned into the ebbing tide.
The current submerged lobster pots and tipped the red signal buoy off Seavey's Island at forty-five degrees.
In 1820 you could walk across the Piscataqua on the schooners, sloops, barks and brigs moored there.
On this night, there wasn’t a soul on the water.

The silhouettes moved over the weathered planking.
One was wearing a basketball jersey and shorts that reached his shins.
The other had auburn hair and soft brown eyes.
She opened a folding chair and sat beside a cooler.
The boy set the fishing rods down and peered over the railing at a disassembled boat, bobbing in the river twenty feet below.

“What the hell’s that?” he asked.
“Sailboat,” I answered.
“Where’re you taking it?”
“Up the coast.”
“How far?”
“All the way.”

The kid grabbed one of the rods and walked away.
The boat was crisscrossed with guidelines and dock lines, a futile effort to keep the hull from bashing into the pilings every time a wave rolled by.
Tools, sails and broken hardware lay scattered across the deck.
The boat was old, but it was new to me.
My father had built it in 1978 and I discovered it thirty years later.
It looked tiny alongside the pier — a twenty-foot sloop with a cabin so small you couldn’t stand up in it.
It took two weeks to prep and repair the thing.
Even with the mast and boom on, though, it hardly looked ready for the powerful currents and storms in the Gulf of Maine.

The list of broken parts when I started refitting it was inconceivable: two outboard motors, bilge pump, navigation lights, battery, engine mount, furling mechanism, gas tanks, mainsheet, inflatable dinghy, blocks, pulleys, water tank, water pump, three handheld GPS units.

God is in these waters, I wrote in my journal after a half-gallon of motor oil leaked into the storage lockers, bilge and drinking water tank.
He is here and He is unkind.

 A lighthouse near Petit Manan.

That morning when the Kittery harbormaster told me that I couldn’t launch at the town boat ramp, I almost gave up. Some things aren’t meant to be.

But then some are, and you have even less control over them.
So I sat in the parking lot until midnight, when the harbormaster’s truck was gone and the tide was high again.
Then I pitched the boat into the dark water, paddled it to the town pier, topped the tank with town water, plugged the battery charger into the town outlet and used the town crane to step the mast.

It was one in the morning.
The kid baited his hooks while I stabilized the mast with four more stays and trued it as best I could.
Then I crammed the sails and tools into the cabin.
The boat had three bunks, a sink, icebox, water tank and portable head.
There were two portholes on either side of the cabin to let in some light and storage space beneath each bunk.
That morning I’d added a bungee-corded library over the port quarter berth, including Dorothy Simpson’s The Maine Islands, E.B. White’s book of essays One Man’s Meat; Blaise Cendrars’s The Prose of the Trans-Siberian, and The Road to Oxiana, by Robert Byron.
It was strange collection.
Part-fantasy, part-adventure.
But that’s what this trip was — a journey back in time along the coast I grew up on.

Looking back is always different than being there, but I had some gaps to fill in from my childhood. Like why my parents dropped everything in winter of 1975 and moved our family from New York to an island off the northern coast of Maine.
Or how my father reinvented himself from a corporate executive into a boat builder.
I had questions about the seductive power of boats and the ocean, how they sucked my family in and commanded our lives for three decades.
Most of all, I wanted to know how and why all of that fell apart in my father’s middle age, ending in his death at the relatively young age of sixty-two.

My supplies for the trip — a heap of my camping gear, the inflatable dinghy and more broken parts — obscured most of the town dock.
Beyond the pile and the ghost boats pulling at their moorings, an invisible line drawn 250 years ago runs down the middle of the river.
South of the divide, the New Hampshire coastline wraps around New Castle Island, Little Harbor and Odiornes Point, then drops in a near-plumb line to Massachusetts, Connecticut and the eastern seaboard of the United States.
To the north, the frayed edge of Maine wends around Badgers and Seavey islands, in and out of Spruce and Chauncey creeks and up, over and sideways through a maze of rock ledges near Hicks Rocks and Fishing Island before turning north to the craggy shores of Kittery Point and Brave Boat Harbor.

The boundary marks the southern edge of the state of Maine.
To me, it was also a starting line.
Some seven thousand miles north at the Canadian border, around the capes, headlands, narrows and necks of the longest coastline in America, I hoped to find the end.

My father teaching me how to drive our motorboat in 1978.


A cottony squall line appeared on the horizon as I sailed into my first port, Gosport Harbor in the Isles of Shoals.
There were mare’s tails before the squall, hazy cirrostratus above it.
Two-dozen other boats pointed into the coming gale.
Eight ring-billed gulls hunkered down onshore.
The Isles of Shoals aren’t exactly on my route, but the state line runs through them a few miles east of Portsmouth and I didn’t want to miss anything.
Half the boats around me were in Maine, half in New Hampshire.
I wasn’t sure which state I was in. I knew I was stuck there until the storm passed.

The computerized voice of NOAA crackled on the VHF radio.
The coming storm front packed sixty-mile-per-hour winds and possibly a tornado.
Sunrise: 6:35 a.m. Sunset: 7:13 p.m.
I went below and closed the hatches.
The first wind hit a few minutes later.
Then the waves.
Just before the rain and lightning, the sky glowed pink and the air turned sweet with the smell of lavender.

I ate tortillas and beans in the cabin while the rain came down.
I didn’t have time to shop before pushing off and had food for only one night.
Saucer-shaped clouds drifted overhead and waves crashed into a seawall built between Cedar and Smuttynose islands.
The dark stone beaches of Star Island to the south and Appledore Island to the north complete the harbor and the major islands of the Shoals.

The group is named for shoals of cod, not the rocky shoals that encircle it.
Seaweed-covered and blackened by the ocean, the islands rise up from the tidewater, meet a ring of woodbine and shadbush, then finally give way to windswept grassy fields and stands of spruce running east-west.

After the storm passed, I closed up the boat and motored the dinghy ashore to find food in the Star Island Inn.
The two-hundred-room inn, built in 1873 as the Oceanic Hotel, was now owned by the Unitarian Church.
The clergy bought the island, too, and held retreats and conventions there in the summer.
A young churchgoer assigned to receive guests at the dock took the dinghy’s bowline and invited me ashore.
She was wearing a bright-green bikini and pointed to the snack bar on the ground floor.
If I wanted to see the Vaughn House, she said, I should hustle. It closed in fifteen minutes.

I didn’t know what the Vaughn House was, but the rule was to follow every twist and turn of the coast.
So I walked a winding gravel path past the gift shop and over a small hill to a cedar-shingled shack.
A sign on the door said it was closed for cleaning.
Since no one was around, I walked in anyway.

The ephemera of nineteenth-century poet Celia Thaxter was preserved inside.
Thaxter grew up on the Shoals, where her father was a lighthouse keeper on White Island, then the proprietor of the Appledore House on Appledore Island.
She worked at the inn and entertained writers and artists vacationing there, like Childe Hassam, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
In 1861 Thaxter’s first poem, “Landlocked,” was printed in The Atlantic Monthly.
By the end of the century she’d published nine books of poetry and nonfiction and was one of the most popular writers in New England.

Items from her life sat in glass cases set around the single room: typewriter, pens, manuscripts, hand-painted china, a telescope she used to watched ladies walking the streets of Portsmouth.
A writer’s tools are meant to be used, though, not looked at, and the display was not as interesting to me without words attached.
I returned to the snack bar to buy food and pick up a copy of Thaxter’s memoir, Among the Isles of Shoals, then navigated a throng of eager churchgoers stepping off the ferry and motored back to the boat.
An hour later, propped up on three cushions in the cockpit, I had to stop reading because both of my legs had fallen asleep.

The thing about going back is you never get it right.
It is unreal now; it was unreal then.
I could never find the words to explain the experience of growing up on an island.
Maybe that’s because I left before they came.
Thaxter left the Shoals only a few times and always came back.
Her recollections run like a current through her memoir, never-ending descriptions layered on top of one another, one depiction spilling into the next.
She writes of the people, the water, the old fishermen, the ships…

“…of the sky and sea, the flitting of the coasters to and fro, the visits of the sea-fowl, sunrise and sunset, the changing moon, the northern lights, the constellations that wheel in splendor through the winter night”; of seeds from her garden that come up a different color on the mainland; of brown and swarthy fishermen and the keen glance of seafarers; how “…all the pictures of which I dream were set in this framework of the sea.”

She recalls a storm that shattered the windows of the White Island lightkeeper’s house she grew up in and swept away the covered bridge connecting the house to the light tower; a night that “everything shook so violently from the concussion of the breakers, that dishes on the closet shelves fell to the floor.”
She writes about Samuel Haley, who financed the Smuttynose-Cedar Island seawall with four bars of pirate silver he found under a rock; and the saltworks, windmills and orchards he created. She describes a string of frozen corpses reaching from Haley’s front door to the splintered Spanish schooner, Sagunto, one stormy January night — how she walked among the fourteen shallow graves Haley dug the next day.
The first church on Star Island, she writes, was built from the timbers of wrecked Spanish ships.

The sun swung low over the harbor as I read about an elderly African woman who rowed ten miles to the Shoals in the middle of the night to look for buried treasure, her divining rod reflecting the starlight, garments fluttering in the midnight wind; a fifteen-ton boulder thrown onto the shore of White Island by the waves; layers of fish bones three feet deep on Star Island’s beaches; the “mosaic of stone and shell and sea-wrack” along the shoreline; scraps of boats and masts locals gathered for firewood; “drowned butterflies, beetles and birds; dead boughs of ragged fir trees completely draped with the long, shining ribbon grass that grows in the brackish water near the river mouths.”

The language of the sea comes in word combinations: salt gravel, traprock, song sparrow, skipjack and wolffish.
For no reason, Thaxter writes, Shoalers formed their own vocabulary over the years. A swallow became a “swallick.”
A sparrow was a “sparrick.”
A minister and his congregation called his skinny wife “Laigs” her entire life.
A Norwegian family was christened Carpenter, though they’d never lifted a hammer.
Islanders’ nicknames were markers: Bunker, Shothead, Brag and Squint. Everything had its place on an island, I thought. That was a difference.

I found a tortilla in the cooler and wrapped it around a hunk of cheese that I bought at the snack bar. With the food in one hand, I tilted the book into the dying light with the other.
There were boats on the page now, “obedient, graceful, perfectly beautiful, yielding to the breeze and to billow, yet swayed throughout by a stronger and more imperative law.”
Thaxter writes of the Shoals’ tiny fleet running before a storm — after fishing Jeffrey’s Ledge forty-five miles out to sea — then taking shelter in the lee of Appledore Island.
A half-mile away, in the warmth of the Appledore House, she watched their masts tip almost horizontal to the water until twilight came and they vanished in a purple haze.

The sun was almost gone.
The other boaters had gone below to eat.
The young poetess wrote of rowing with a group of friends at night and swinging her arms through the phosphorescence, “from the fingers playing beneath, fire seemed to stream, emerald sparks clung to the damp draperies.”
Then this: “The eternal sound of the sea on every side has a tendency to wear away the edge of human thought and perception; sharp outlines become blurred and softened like a sketch in charcoal; nothing appeals to the mind with the same distinctness as on the mainland.”

There was fog in the harbor.
The sky swirled silver and gray.
I realized that some of my anxiety about taking this trip came from the fact that I’d moved away from Maine.
And did that mean that I couldn’t write about it?
Mainers are fiercely protective of their history and culture.
They say it takes three generations born in-state to call yourself a native.
We’d come from away.
My mother had been a summer vacationer.
My father pronounced himself a boat builder so quickly, that sometimes our whole presence in Maine seemed superficial.

But Thaxter’s words brought me back.
They conjured images of my own youth in Southwest Harbor — of fisherman’s kids smoking cigarettes outside the Pinball Palace when school let out.
Of the smell of diesel and fish bait on Main Street while weatherworn lobster boats unloaded their catch at the town dock.
I recalled sitting on a ledge in the middle of the ocean before dawn with Crozer, waiting for flights of eider to glide down to our decoys.
The island and my memory of it were my home more than anywhere else, I realized.

I turned on the VHF.
There were more thunderstorms tracking across the mainland.
It would blow tomorrow too, the voice said.
A boat circled Gosport Harbor.
I recognized its low-slung lines, the open cockpit, tan bimini collapsed on the bow.
The cherry console and teak decking were familiar — auburn and gold.
The boat was a Somes Sound 26, a replica of a Newport launch, twenty-six feet long with a 240 horsepower Chrysler inboard engine.
My father built it. It was one of seven motorboats he ever built.
The rest were all sailboats.

The timing, chance and message — if there was one — were overwhelming.
The scene seemed staged, like it was lifted from one of my dreams.
I sat motionless and watched the boat head west toward Portsmouth.
It picked up speed and a thick, white wake rolled off the stern.

I opened Thaxter’s book again.
The words were black splotches on the page.
I couldn’t think of anything.
I flipped to a dog-eared passage I’d read a half-dozen times.

Pleasanter still to think of some slender girl at twilight lingering with reluctant feet and wistful eyes that search the dusky sea for a returning sailor whose glimmer was sweeter than moonlight or starlight to her sight—lingering still, though her mother calls within and the dew falls with the falling night. She walked these shores most of her life, but especially in her young life. And it’s in your young life where the living begins and where it was strongest. And you will always go back to that until you were old and weak as a child and happy that you have no care in the world again.